School districts tighten the belt

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Area districts are prepared to weather the state budget storm.

Area school districts feel they can withstand state budget cuts this year, with several looking at an old-fashioned "belt tightening" instead of program or personnel cuts.

However, that optimism quickly disappears when looking at future moves by the state, whether it be more budget cuts or just limitation on allowable growth dollars.

Merle Boerner, Newell-Fonda superintendent, said he feels the state and the nation are beginning to experience a downturn on what has been a cycle of good and bad economic times. Newell-Fonda is facing a loss of $61,979 in state funding.

"We at this time do not plan any program or personnel cuts," he said. "We feel like with a little internal belt tightening we can survive this cut. We are concerned about future cuts that might come, but feel we can survive this one."

Boerner said the district has a solid cash balance to help get past the 4.3 percent reduction in state funding. "I don't feel in our present situation we don't take any drastic cuts," he said.

Schaller-Crestland is also looking at its cash balances to weather the storm this year. It is facing a $64,675 loss, but Superintendent Gerald Scott said the district's ending fund balance can cover that.

"We are not looking at changing the structure of how we're doing business in the district this year," he said. "We'll simply absorb in our cash balance."

Many districts are looking at little ways to make savings, such as asking teachers to re-examine requests for new supplies, equipment and other items, as well as monitoring field trips and other travel.

The Albert City-Truesdale District is looking at items which are not necessary. Also, now is the time for future planning, said Steve Mitchell, AC-T Superintendent.

"Everybody here is aware of the fact that budgets are tight and the economy's not good," Mitchell said.

Some superintendents look to a milder winter or at least a shorter winter to provide some budget relief. Boerner said savings in heating costs as well as less expensive natural gas can provide some extra dollars.

The effects of state cuts will vary district by district, Boerner said. "Different schools are going to approach it in different ways," he said. "Some face serious decisions, and are seriously thinking about cutting programs and personnel."

Some districts may look at putting off expensive purchases, such as new buses, or may consider putting off remodeling projects.

With teachers, Mitchell said there are mixed emotions.

"Teachers are disappointed. As educators, this is an important part of their lives and it's hard to say we're not going to put resources into what they've put their lives into," he said. "But they're understanding of the need to keep spending in line as much as possible."

All districts plan on monitoring the current situation to see where it may lead for the following year.

"What fears us more is what any future cuts are going to be, and if it's not a cut, than a lack of growth in the school budget," Boerner said.

Area superintendents and school board members attended the annual state school board conference last week. Scott said some Schaller-Crestland members may have got input not specifically on current budget concerns, but rather cost-effective programs the district can implement in the future.

"I do think the board got some valuable in-service ideas on how to better meet the specific needs in the district and ultimately spend money more wisely," he said.

Some of the sessions out of the state conference include student assessment, alternative funding sources, regional high school programs and sharing possibilities. No decisions though are impending in the Schaller-Crestland district.

"We came away with an idea that we're sitting in a pretty good location and a good position to take advantage of things like the community college and neighboring schools," Scott said.

Scott said his district is looking at expanding programs to offer dual credit courses as well as college courses for adults in the evenings.

"We want to take down some barriers and say education is important, and that we hope to be there for the people," he said.

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